ragumaʂ katuvUrik ells’er Chi-aʂeseyut ga’er:
tud’te, nemeʂo, sibasik sor’er.
kot’te, neyut, siglesik sor’er.
emp’te, netzen, sigumaʂik sor’er.
rav’te, nejIUnt, sizefnesik sor’er.
wep’te, neChufa, siso’c’amik sor’er.
ka fUmra’il cufkameʂo tasChopris hiloa’er. ka ra’il Chi-aʂeseyut hil’peret’er.
* * *
He frowns at the book, puzzling it out.
Language study is not his favourite thing. He’d much rather be using his body or his hands or his mind, doing the things that come to him easily, quickly. Language has always been a bit of a stumbling block. He tends to say too much too quickly, or the wrong thing at the wrong time. Easier to leave language to those who love it…
…but Garak loves it. And he loves Garak.
So here he is, head in hand, poring over the words. The letters wriggle on the page, following their sense-lines, branching into layers of meaning and emotional colourings, and he squints at them. They look like ants marching, or the footprints of a tiny bird…
This book is one of Garak’s favourites. It’s a little thing, actual paper bound in some kind of leather, the provenance of which he doesn’t know and doesn’t care to. It’s well-thumbed. But Garak’s never lent it to him.
It’s not secret. At least, he doesn’t think it is. Garak had left it sitting out in plain view on the shelf, and when he’d picked it up, it had dropped open in his hand, sprawling wide, eager to reveal its secrets.
He just has to figure them out.
As always. Thank you, Garak.
He traces a finger along the top of the page, where Garak’s hands have worn the edge to thinness, where the corner of the page is bent. That’s something: it’s actually, purposefully bent. It’s a bit sacrilegious for Garak to treat a book that way. For a Cardassian without deity or religion (or so he claims), Garak’s books are very nearly holy artifacts.
Over the page his finger moves, circling around the block of text sitting in the middle. It’s not very complex, actually. That’s a nice surprise. God knows the average page of Cardassian text looks a bit like a circulatory system pulsing away on the page, defying his hesitant eye. Hardly something I want to unravel…
But this he can follow. It starts… here.
He sounds it out to himself, alone in the house.
"Way… the way, all right, a specific way… The way your… lover? To… embrace? Or kiss. Probably kiss."
He stops there, realizing what he’s saying, then smiles and speaks to empty air.
"Garak, you’re a fraud."
Back to the book, and he’s much more interested now. There’s no shame in that. No better motivator than honest prurience, after all…
"The way your lover to kiss is… are, I suppose… where are your plurals, Cardassia…? The ways to kiss your lover are like… fingers on a hand."
A brief glance is spared for same, rapped briefly against the arm of the sofa before he turns back to the book.
"First… the mouth…"
(…where Garak spends ages, to the point that Julian is sometimes frustrated, aching for more, but is pressed back down as Garak tastes him, tastes his breath, kisses him again and again until his lips are tender and bruised…)
"…to taste their words."
(“Say it again…”
With lips against lips and eyes closed and palms together: “Once more…”)
"Second… the hands… to taste their… talent? Ability?"
(Garak kisses his way along each finger: first joint, second joint, fingernail, pad. Each kiss is gentle, with a touch of tongue and sip of breath. Julian watches him, sees how his eyes close, how carefully his hands hold Julian’s own.)
"Skills. Their skills. To taste my… skill."
(“Your hands are so beautiful,” Garak had said to him once, back when all of this was new. “They move with such precision. Do you know how long I’ve watched your hands?”
Pleased, he’d pressed a kiss to the grey scutes against his cheek, had smiled up at Garak from where he lay sprawled across his legs. “Watch them now. I think you’ll rather like it.”
And through it all his eyes had been so hungry, so proud.)
"Third… the feet. Really. To taste… the pattern? The weaving? Damn—"
(Garak is the first person who’s ever kissed his feet. Really, honestly kissed his feet. Certainly other lovers have dropped an idle buss on the arch, or nibbled at his toes… but Garak has kissed every centimetre of his skin, and his feet have not been left by the wayside.
At first he’d been embarrassed. Something about it had seemed inappropriate, too intimate. He’d wanted to wash them thoroughly first, had been reluctant to let Garak touch them otherwise…)
"—wait, that’s—that goes to… Oh. To taste their paths." Their paths in the world. He knows that one. When a people envision themselves as functioning as one organism, everyone knows the path they have to follow. Everything has to be where it’s supposed to, when it’s supposed to. Really, following one’s path is a Duty…
(…until he’d realized that Garak didn’t mind; that in fact he seemed to take pleasure in the taste of the city’s dust on Julian’s feet. Now Julian watches him as he drops kisses on the balls of each foot, as he lets his mouth trace the arches, the patterns of bones. He sips air, flickers his tongue across Julian’s skin. He has never seemed more alien.)
"Fourth… ah ha! Fourth, on the genitals, I know that one, thank you, Garak…"
(…which is something Garak’s gotten remarkably good at, considering that Julian has no ajan to speak of, and nothing he does have works quite the way Garak would expect it to. They’ve made do. Garak’s mouth is talented in more ways than one, and where making love to Julian is concerned, he seems to have no inhibitions at all. Then again, what’s taboo on an alien’s body? Not much, it seems…)
"…to taste their… fruit? That can’t be right. Their… oh! Their fertility. Or… their potential?"
That stops him for a moment. He looks up at the wall, not really seeing its shadows.
(…because there’s nothing about him that Garak shies away from. Everything is a delight. Every place that Garak’s mouth can go, it does, and Julian opens himself in ways he never has, crying out with eyes shut and joy in his mouth that has, apparently, just been waiting for a chance to sing itself free.)
"And… let’s see… fifth, on the chufa… mmm."
(Garak presses cool lips to his forehead, lets them linger. He leans into the kiss, rests his hands on Garak’s shoulders, feels Garak’s hands soft and cool against his jaw.)
"To taste… the truth. Their truth."
"Always. I’m yours."
"And I am yours."
Every day they say it at the door. Every day Garak smiles at him. Every day he sees the truth in Garak’s eyes, behind the batted lashes, the twisted smile: there’s joy lurking there, slipping through the shadows, silverfish-quick and silent. It’s brighter every day.)
He stares down at the little book.
He does, indeed, feel a bit unravelled. But also… full of fruit.
He sits for a while, stroking its pages absently, looking out the window at where Ra’ajev stares down at her people. Soon enough, though, he hears the door. Then there are embraces, smiles, time spent in making food and making conversation and, eventually, in making love.
That night, he tastes the looping spirals of Garak’s words.
That night, he tastes the calm precision of Garak’s hands.
That night, he tastes the streets of Kardasi’or on Garak’s feet.
That night, he tastes the future's promise at Garak’s centre.
And finally, as Garak lies spent and sighing, he kisses his Chufa and tastes the truth of him:
"Elim Garak, you are a manipulative romantic."
Garak laughs up at the ceiling, his plans revealed, and Julian keeps the taste of him safe in his mouth, covers his smile with his hand.
* * *
The ways to kiss your lover are as the fingers on the hand:
First, on the mouth, to taste their words.
Second, on the hands, to taste their skills.
Third, on the feet, to taste their comings and their goings.
Fourth, on the centre, to taste their fruitfulness.
Fifth, on the chufa, to taste their truth.
Keep all of these tastes safe in your mouth. Know them as you do the fingers on your hand.
—At’cep, “The Ways to Go”